Even Light Drinking Increases Cancer Risk, Study Attests

It would probably not shock you to hear that regular alcohol consumption could increase certain health risks.  That in mind, researchers in Japan announced, this week, the discovery of a link between lifelong drinking and cancer risk.  

The study analyzes data collected over several decades, research that tracked the health of approximately 63,000 patients throughout Japan who had been admitted to the hospital; and all had cancer.  Documenting their medical histories, the volunteers involved with the study answered questions about their drinking habits. The inquiries ranged from amount of alcohol consumed on a daily basis to frequency and longevity of these drinking habits.  These patients were compared against the same number of patients who had not been diagnosed with cancer, and who had similar patient demographics. 

The comparison showed that those considered to be light or moderate drinkers were at a higher risk for cancer.  Specifically, the study advised a standard-measure drink per day (up to 2-oz of a spirit or 6-oz of wine, or a pint of beer) increased risk by 5 percent. Furthermore, the risk remained the same even after considering additional health factors like smoking, hypertension, obesity, and other known cancer risk factors. 

According to study authors, “The same patterns were observed at light to moderate levels of drinking for most gastrointestinal/aerodigestive cancers as well as breast and prostate cancers.”

Study co-author Masayoshi Zaitsu explains that cancer is the primary cause of death in Japan, which obviously makes this type of discovery potentially groundbreaking.  Additionally, the Harvard University TH Chan School of Public Health  and University of Tokyo researcher notes, “Given the current burden of overall cancer incidence, we should further encourage promoting public education about alcohol-related cancer risk.”

To clarify, Zaitsu explains, “One drink a day is probably not a big problem, but drinking to much over long periods of time might be dangerous. We enjoy drinking, but we need to think about it.”

The study found that drinking as little a single drink every day for 10 years or just two drinks a year for five years could increase risk for cancers by five percent. These cancers understandably, include stomach and esophageal, of course; but also the colon/colorectal, breast, and prostate. 

As you might assess, associated cancer risk was lowest among those who did not drink alcohol.